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Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Michigan's new seats, revamped arena

By Eamonn Brennan

Ah, new facilities. They're all the rage these days, aren't they? It seems that every offseason, four or five schools -- and that's probably underestimating things a bit -- find themselves building massive practice gyms and all-access weight rooms in the hopes of outpacing the competition for the attention of of talented recruits. Not everyone has T. Boone Pickens flow, and so not everyone can have a $4 million basketball locker room. But everyone does the best they can.

Michigan is no different. Crisler Arena has long needed a major facelift to improve the gym's drab, cavernous interior. It got a portion of said facelift this offseason. The early renovations included what Michigan's release called the "highest priority infrastructure needs such as repairs to the roof, electrical, plumbing and air handling systems." Which is good, because you can't have a leaky roof when you're trying to play basketball. But fans are more likely to notice the new seats in Crisler's lower bowl and the arena's new high-definition video scoreboards, which replaced the old school Jumbotron you'll see here. Oh, and there's also a new court, too. Not too shabby.

On Tuesday, John Beilein's team got its first tour of the new gym. If Beilein and senior forward Zack Novak are to be believed, the arena improvements won't just be aesthetically pleasing -- they'll also be advantageous:
"It just seems like more of a home-court advantage," Beilein said. "It looks like the fans are really on us. I love the look of it. The floor looks tremendous. I love the feel right now and I can tell by looking at the players faces that they feel the same way."

"I think is it going to be a much better experience for the fans," Novak said. "I think they're going to be much more engaged in the game, especially the students because we've got them sitting right on top of the court now.

Of course, the final judgement on any renovation must come from the fans. But if Novak and Beilein are right, then Michigan deserves some serious credit. It's easy for a renovation to focus on the superficial -- glittering scoreboards, cushy seat covers, a shiny floor, a place to dock your iPad. (OK, maybe not that last one. But give it a few years. We'll get there.)

But if a renovation can actually make the fan experience better by getting fans, especially students, closer to the floor, then that's a win-win for everyone. When Michigan opens its new practice facility called the Player Development Center this fall and finally finishes its Phase Two renovations next year, it will be well on its way to catching up with those pesky facilities Joneses. In the meantime, hey, better seats! Like I said: not too shabby.

(Hat tip: UMHoops)